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TRAVEL: UNDER THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA

September 24, 2017

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Crouching among the rocks while taking a decompression stop at the Kanyon | Photos by the writer
Crouching among the rocks while taking a decompression stop at the Kanyon | Photos by the writer

Where does a Pakistani scuba diving aficionado go during ‘off’ season? Summers bring rough seas, waves, riptides and undercurrents in the Arabian Sea, so from mid-April till mid-September most of the Indian Ocean is out of the diving equation. Our season starts in autumn, goes through winter and continues till early spring — or ‘pre-summer’ as it’s known in Karachi.

This makes it the perfect time to go to the Mediterranean Sea where winter is too cold for a dip in the sea. In summer, towns dotting the coasts of Greece, Italy and Turkey come back to life. Since diving in European countries is too expensive, Turkey is fast becoming a favourite alternative (after South East Asia) for the local diving community — more specifically, the tiny coastal town of Kaş (pronounced ‘Kaash’).

Kaş has over 30 dive sites, some of the clearest waters and numerous wrecks. It used to be a small fishing village of 10,000 people, but is now the hub of recreational diving in Turkey. According to a local, Kaş has 20 diving clubs and 25 diving boats, and hosts an annual diving competition. The town itself has a vibrant nightlife for the after-scuba hours.

Where can Pakistani diving afficionados go when the water’s too rough around Karachi?

How to get there: Short flights from Istanbul (both Ataturk and Sabiha Gökçen airports) to Dalaman (Muglia) airport take place several times a day. There is an airport shuttle (at about one to one-and-a-half hour intervals) that goes from Dalaman to the town of Fethiye for about 15TL (Turkish Lira, one TLira is equal to 30 rupees). The shuttle will take you to the Otobus (bus stop) from where you can hop on a bus going to Kaş for about 25TL. The journey should take around one to two hours depending on how many times the bus stops along the way.

Divemaster Serhat making sure we make it through
Divemaster Serhat making sure we make it through

Where to stay: Other than fancy hotels with their own piers into the Mediterranean Sea and Air BnBs, there are local pansions — family-owned boutique hotels. Most of them are close to the harbour and give great value-for-money (in my opinion). Rooms are clean and rates usually include breakfast. The family is there to help navigate your way around Kaş. There are no hostels, but I recently managed to find one pansion (Ates) with a four-person dorm (100TL per night including a generous Mediterranean breakfast).

While there are always more ‘glamourous’ clubs — with flashy advertisements and gimmickry showing fitness models as instructors, I chose to dive with a more ‘understated’ club: Oceanids, which was recommended by the locals. “We’ve never advertised,” says Ali ‘Kaan’ Topuz, co-owner and one of the instructors at Oceanids. “People have always come to us through word-of-mouth,” he adds, “We prefer it that way.” That approach creates a more community-like atmosphere on the boat. The club provides you with everything you’ll need sans a bathing suit — that’s something you’ll have to figure out on your own.

In summer, towns dotting the coasts of Greece, Italy and Turkey come back to life. Since diving in European countries is too expensive, Turkey is fast becoming a favourite alternative (after South East Asia) for the local diving community — more specifically, the tiny coastal town of Kaş.

Serhat, one of the main dive masters, quit his fancy corporate job in Istanbul for a seasonally adventurous life in Kaş. He delivered the first round of instructions in Turkish followed by a quick summary in English for my benefit. I may have a hard time communicating with everyone overland, but underwater we all spoke the same language — hand signals, expressions or body movement that are common to divers around the world.

Newest wreck

Diving on the tank during the day | Photo courtesy: Oceanida
Diving on the tank during the day | Photo courtesy: Oceanida

One of the more recently popular diving spots is a new ‘wreck’ — a ship that had been ‘prepared’ and sunk a few days before I arrived. As we dived towards it, we found quite a few divers around the site with their cameras. Unlike other older wrecks, the paint was still intact. We don’t get to see wrecks in Pakistan, so it was quite exciting for me.

Kaş has over 30 dive sites, some of the clearest waters and numerous wrecks. It used to be a small fishing village of 10,000 people, but is now the hub of recreational diving in Turkey.

Favourite dive site: Kanyon

You start off hanging on to these massive rocks to the drop -off point in shallower water because you’re going against a strong underwater current and make your way forward. The light dances beautifully on the rocks and is a great spot for photography. Eventually you come across a steep drop-off point, in a crevasse. Final depth: 38 metres.

After checking to see if all of us were okay, Serhat dived forward. It’s a relatively faster descent along a massive wall — constant equalisation of pressure between your ears and adjusting the buoyancy on your BCD (Bouyancy Control Device, the jacket scuba divers wear) is important. The moment you get to the bottom you turn left and are confronted by a massive old wreck. For some reason, the water close to the wreck was icy cold.

While making our way back to shallower waters, Serhat stopped and pointed to a spot in the sand. I looked, didn’t see anything. Looked again, and suddenly spotted the sand blinking at us. Moving away, I spotted the outline of a pregnant angel ray half submerged in the sand. It was huge!

Another magical thing that happened was that we spotted an old turtle in the water. We all stopped so as to give it some space, and unlike most other turtles, this one didn’t appear annoyed or afraid and actually swam up to us and in and around where we were parked in the rocks.

Magical experience: Night at the tank

Celebrating an underwater proposal on the surface
Celebrating an underwater proposal on the surface

“We couldn’t go there in the day because it was too crowded,” said Kaan. “But I felt bad that you’d leave without going there, so I thought, why not at night?” The location in question: a sunken military tank at a depth just under 20 metres.

We paired up with a dive master or instructor each and went off, carefully not to flash our torches in the dark directly on the fish (it blinds them momentarily). They would stick their fins on the rocks or swim between the seaweeds to hide from us. Eventually, due to the excellent navigation skills of Serkan, the dive master I was with, we made our way to the tank.

The thing about night diving is that you’re completely enveloped in darkness. You can’t tell if anything is in front of you or how far unless you flash your torch on it. The tank was at a bit of a distance when I first spotted it.

The moment I saw torch lights from the other divers flashing on the tank, I got so excited that I accidentally inflated my BCD instead of deflating it further so I could sink towards it — a rookie mistake.

When we approached the tank — and it was quite safe to swim in and around it — we saw a lone lionfish dancing in the dark, its fiery orange tone bright against the subdued colours of the tank.

By the time we surfaced to the stars above us, we were all a bit high on the experience. This dive was the perfect end to a perfect week, mostly spent under the sea.

The writer is a member of staff. She tweets @madeehasyed

Published in Dawn, EOS, September 24th, 2017